#aww2020 · 2020 Reviews · true crime

Book Review: Death on the Derwent Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles

Title: Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s storydeath on the derwent small

Author: Robin Bowles

Published: February 19th 2019

Publisher: Scribe

Pages: 384

Genres: Non Fiction, True Crime

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 3.5 stars

Don’t fool yourself that the innocent never go to jail.

When Bob Chappell disappeared from his yacht, moored in the Derwent Estuary near the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania’s marina, on the night of 26 January 2009, he left behind his pipe and tobacco — something that his partner of 18 years, Sue Neill-Fraser, knew he would never willingly do. What she didn’t know was that despite no body, no weapon, no cause of death, and no witnesses, she would soon become the only suspect in Chappell’s disappearance.

In their haste to wrap up the case, the police charged Neill-Fraser with murder. In her eagerness to assist police, she virtually talked her way into their hands. And after a lengthy trial that resulted in a guilty verdict, the judge delivered Neill-Fraser a crushing 26-year sentence.

But was the verdict unsafe? Many of Australia’s leading legal minds think so, and other reasonable hypotheses have been mooted about what might have happened on the Derwent that night. The Tasmanian government has changed its laws to give Neill-Fraser one last crack at proving her innocence, because that is what it’s come to now — proving her innocence.

The result of years of investigation, and based on extensive interviews with all the key players — including Sue Neill-Fraser and her family, local underworld figures, and legal luminaries — Death on the Derwent is a riveting story of justice not served.


Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story is the thirteenth true crime title from Robin Bowles, an Australian author with over twenty years experience in investigative journalism. In her latest true crime novel, Bowles presents the reader with a wealth of information and facts pertaining to the baffling murder mystery of Bob Chappell. When Bob disappeared from his yacht, his partner Sue was the only suspect in this perplexing case. Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story attempts to expand upon this long standing Australian murder mystery.

For those who are not aware of the details of the case that defines Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story, it relates to the unexplained death of Bob Chappell, a man who vanished from his yacht in the Derwent Estuary. This crime, which happened on the night of 26th January in the year 2009, has remained largely unexplained since it occurred.  With very personal items belonging to the victim remaining on the scene despite Bob’s disappearance, there are many inconsistencies and odd aspects to this case. With a lack of clear evidence in the police investigation, including no body or weapons, the only option was to charge Bob’s partner Sue for the crime. Police were pressed to find a culprit for this crime and as a result, Sue was charged. The subsequent trial resulted in Sue’s incarceration for the length of twenty six years for Bob’s murder. However, there is a cast of doubt over Sue’s case and her involvement in Bob’s death. As this book details, there is an opportunity for Sue to prove her innocence and to be exonerated from this crime. Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story is a thorough and informative text, that delves deep into in the heart of this investigation, the trial and key figures in the case. In addition this text offers a critical examination into possible injustice.

Australian true crime stories always gain my full and undivided attention. In the case of Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story, this Tasmanian based true crime story pulled me in from the start. From the beginning I wasn’t sure at all about this case and despite my careful and objective read of this title, I still feel very unsure about the Bob Chappell murder. This isn’t a clear cut case, which is revealed as the book progresses.

Over the course of three parts, ‘The Disappearance’, ‘Trial by Jury’ and ‘The Unravelling’, Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story covers a lot of ground in thirty chapters. An Introduction, Prologue, Acknowledgements and a Cast of Main Characters rounds off this true crime text. Bowles includes personal statements, professional opinions on the case, diary excerpts of the accused, detective notes, judge rulings, court decisions, appeal bench statements, law judgements, high court decisions, newspaper article extracts, court acts, play reviews, transcript recordings, case notes and personal letters. These all help build the case, providing a comprehensive insight into this problematic true crime case. An accompanying mid book spread of eight pages of photographs, gives the reader a visual sense of the case at hand. At times I felt the book was very heavy and there was an information overload.

There is no doubt that Robin Bowles is a skilled and highly passionate true crime writer. I have read her work before and I was impressed by her dedication and fieldwork. Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story is no exception, Bowles approaches this case with relentless and determined manner. Bowles is aware of the setbacks of this particular case and the sense of injustice that pervades Sue Neill’s conviction. Bowles dogged quest for the truth and her hope that Sue’s case will be reviewed and eventually overturned is what drives this text forward. I really do hope that this book will work to remind the general public of difficult cases such as Bob Chappell’s disappearance and subsequent murder, where a miscarriage of justice has most probably occurred.

Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story is an impassioned and informative presentation of a tragic crime that has continued to perplex many Australians, including those in the law system and those who are not. Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story is a staple read for true crime enthusiasts.

Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles was published on 19th February 2019 by Scribe. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story, Robin Bowles, visit here.

*Thanks extended to Scribe for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story is book #82 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge


4 thoughts on “Book Review: Death on the Derwent Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles

  1. Great review Amanda. Kind of depressing to read true crime books where the crime is still unsolved, how great would it be if every crime could be solved…

    Liked by 1 person

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